POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Sweeney not ready to order hearings into alleged sexual misconduct by Murphy staffer

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Senate President Steve Sweeney wants more information on allegations of sexual misconduct against former Murphy administration staffer Albert Alvarez before he orders legislative hearings into hiring practices by the Governor’s Office.

“None of this will be swept under the rug or hidden. If it’s real, it’s real and we’ll deal with it,” Sweeney said. “Any time you deal with sexual harassment, or any kind of assault, it’s just not acceptable. It never was. We’re taking this very seriously.”

Politico broke the story. A woman reportedly accused Alvarez, who’s an attorney, of alleged sexual misconduct when they worked on Hispanic outreach for the Murphy campaign. Alvarez has not been criminally charged, and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office won’t confirm an investigation. Sweeney wants specifics.

“There’s rumors someone threw a chair at a woman, too. But, again, they’re rumors, and I don’t want to jump out and say, absolute. If you have facts, you know it’s one thing, but right now there’s not enough facts out there for us to say, ‘This is an absolute,'” Sweeney said.

The governor’s transition team reportedly learned of the allegations in December. Two background checks on Alvarez apparently came back clean before the administration hired him at $140,000 a year as chief of staff at the Schools Development Authority in January. The Governor’s Office was reportedly made aware of the allegations in March.

The Attorney General’s Office said, “We can confirm that the Governor’s Office conveyed information to the Attorney General’s Office regarding Mr. Alvarez. Beyond that we cannot comment on the specifics of the information.”

Alvarez resigned suddenly last week. Tuesday a reporter asked the governor to explain why he left and whether there was an inquiry.

“I know that Al has resigned, and beyond that I’ve got no more color to offer,” Murphy replied.

Republicans in the Legislature, which just adopted a strict anti-harassment policy, called for an investigation — particularly in light of the recent Kavanaugh hearings.

“We would like to get answers to those questions to see whether or not this victim was treated properly by the government or those involved in the campaign,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick.

“Demands that all women need to be believed in light of the Kavanaugh hearing. And is it all women need to be believed, except for a woman who may have been assaulted in Hudson County by a Democratic male? I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of open-ended items that we need to get to the bottom of,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.

Republican women in the Legislature sent Democratic leaders a letter demanding to know “… which county prosecutor reviewed allegations and why charges have not been filed”… “all incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual intimidation, or hostile work environment raised during the campaign, the transition, or presently within the administration.” They’re demanding “… a thorough review of the hiring practices of the Murphy Administration.”

“I know Speaker Coughlin wants to look into the hiring practices, too, because obviously once you violate the public’s trust. I believe in second chances also, but not in government,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney’s got no timeline for when he might call hearings. If he does, the Governor’s Office has no comment, but this story is not going away.